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by Dalvinder Ghaly

A black cab pulls up at the kerbside under the orange glow of the streetlamp. The road is quiet as the neighbours sleep soundly in their beds. A man gets out of the cab and tries to wake his eighty-one-year-old mother who has fallen asleep on the back seat. The taxi driver holds open the door as he tries to coax his mother out. She is drowsy and mumbling incoherently.

“Bibi you have to get up now. We’re home.”

The old woman feels exhausted. She struggles to her feet and manages to take a few steps. She feels heavy. The cold penetrates her clothes, thin black leggings and a grey sweatshirt. Her colourful shalwar kameez suits long since replaced with more practical attire. Her eyes close involuntarily, her legs buckle underneath her. A black coat, loosely draped around her shoulders, falls to the ground. She doesn’t know where she is.

“Come on Bibi,” the man says with a tinge of desperation as he tries to hold her upright. Her body starts to go limp.

The taxi driver asks if there is anything he can do to assist. An unpleasant smell drifts from the cab. As the old woman begins to slip from the man’s grip, the taxi driver rushes forward to help. She loses consciousness and they lay her down on the floor.

“Bibi, Bibi,” the man says over and over with panic rising in his chest. He pushes his face close to his mother’s and is relieved to feel her breath and to see her chest rise and fall.

“I’ll call an ambulance,” the taxi driver says, turning away from the discomfort of the scene and the smell. She has lost control of her bowels.

The man rushes into the house, brings out a pillow and a blanket. His sister, who has been waiting at home, follows behind. It is freezing. He watches as his sister carefully lifts the old woman’s head onto the pillow and covers her with the blanket.

As they wait for the ambulance, the sister checks that her mother is responsive. The old woman mumbles then falls asleep, snoring lightly. She lies on the cold pavement with the orange street light illuminating her face. It is as if she is sleeping soundly in her bed. A young couple walk past and offer their help. The sister thanks them and says that they are waiting on an ambulance. It should be there soon.

The man leans on a nearby wall and tells the taxi driver of his frustration. The hospital should have never discharged her, he says, and the taxi driver nods in agreement. They waited five hours for patient transport before giving up and calling a cab. They shake their heads in unison at the situation.

Sirens are heard nearby, and the ambulance appears at the top of the road. It flashes its way down to the cab. Shortly behind two paramedics follow in a car. The paramedics check the woman over. The relevant information is exchanged. They efficiently assess the situation and just as efficiently lift the old woman from the pavement onto a stretcher and into the ambulance. The man goes into the ambulance with his mother. The paramedics continue with their checks ask questions and fill out the requisite paperwork. They head back to the hospital.

The old woman lies on the kitchen floor staring at the ceiling. A green pillow is tucked underneath her head, her carer holds her hand. She is confused. The old woman’s daughter arrives back from work. She found her this way, the carer tells her. She has covered the old woman’s legs with a grey blanket and called an ambulance.

The daughter checks her mother over. In her confusion, the old woman has taken off her leggings. The daughter brings her a glass of water which the old woman sips through a straw. The imaginary family next door is commenting on everything that is going on, they have been noisy all day, the old woman tells her. The daughter asks the old woman how she fell. The old woman says she doesn’t know.

The ambulance could take up to an hour, the carer tells the daughter. The old woman says that she is happy to lie where she is. The carer strokes her hand. The daughter opens the kitchen door to the overgrown garden. It is still warm from a day of spring sunshine. The weeds look lush and healthy, the grass unkempt. The large popular tree at the far end is as strong as it is old.

As they wait, the carer empties the washing machine and the daughter pegs the clothes in the garden. The old woman watches. The daughter and carer take it in turns to check on the old woman and offer her sips of water.

Three paramedics arrive, a triumvirate, wearing uniforms as green as the weeds outside. One has a shock of thick orange hair. He speaks in an Australian accent, the same as his colleague, an Irish lilt is heard from the third. They attend to the old woman. She is wearing just a T shirt that she tugs over her knees. With their mix of accents, the paramedics soothe and ask the old woman questions. They smile, check her over. They position themselves around her, then pull her up as you would a sail on a boat, placing her softly down on a nearby chair. From here on in it is smooth sailing. They complete their checks. She is alert, has no injuries and is fully occupied with the voices in her head. In Punjabi, the old woman tells her daughter to offer the paramedics a cup of tea. The daughter assures the paramedics that she seems herself, as much as she is within the confines of her illness. The paramedics give the old woman the all clear.

“Thank you,” the old woman says softly to the paramedics as they leave.

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